ADAM Kingsley's dream first year as head coach will this Friday night lead to a showdown with a man who knows a thing or two about fairytale coaching debuts.
Greater Western Sydney's magical run to the preliminary final will see Kingsley become just the eighth rookie coach in 30 years to reach the final four.
On Friday night, Kingsley's Giants will come up against Collingwood and Craig McRae, the only other man in the past decade to achieve the feat having steered the Magpies to a prelim last year in his first season in charge.
Kingsley and McRae join a small but elite group of coaches to have enjoyed instant success as a first-year coach.
Since the top eight finals system (and two preliminary finals) was introduced in 1994, just seven rookie coaches have reached the preliminary final stage.
The first to do so was Gary Ayres at Geelong in 1995 before Rodney Eade did so at Sydney a year later, also steering his side to a Grand Final in his first year in charge.
Neale Daniher did it at Melbourne in 1998 while Chris Scott achieved the ultimate success in 2011, winning a premiership with Geelong in his first year in charge.
A year later, two of the four preliminary finalists were coached by rookies, with Nathan Buckley (Collingwood) and Brenton Sanderson (Adelaide) taking their clubs to the final four.
The elite group of seven, which will become eight when Kingsley joins on Friday night, expands to nine if you include Paul Roos at Sydney in 2003 and Neil Craig at Adelaide in 2005. Both Roos and Craig reached a prelim in their first full season in charge, although both men had already had a taste of senior coaching having taken over as caretaker part way through the previous season.
The Giants' run to a prelim in Kingsley's first season has been made even more remarkable by the fact they sat in 14th spot on the ladder after round 15 and have since won nine of 11 games.
On Saturday night, he conceded his side's success has come earlier than he expected, especially after their sluggish start to the year.
"I knew we had really good footy in us and I felt like we could be a very good team," he said.
"But did I expect to make a prelim? No. Not this year anyway."
Preliminary final in first year as head coach (since 1994)
2023 - Adam Kingsley
2022 - Craig McRae
2012 - Brenton Sanderson
2012 - Nathan Buckley
2011 - Chris Scott
2005 - Neil Craig*
2003 - Paul Roos*
1998 - Neale Daniher
1996 - Rodney Eade
1995 - Gary Ayres
*caretaker head coach the previous season